Senior Writer

Post-spring Top 25: Broncos in perfect position to buck establishment


They're not talking expansion in Boise. At least not yet.

Boise is poised to make a big hit on the title scene. (US Presswire)  
Boise is poised to make a big hit on the title scene. (US Presswire)  
There's the little matter of a national championship chase up in Idaho. While the rest of the country is playing "Big Tenopoly", moving game pieces all over the board, Boise State loves where it is right now.

The Broncos have a legitimate chance to play for it all. The Boys of the Blue Turf will be ranked high enough to make a run in every major poll. They kick off the season with a high-profile game against Virginia Tech and, later, against Oregon State. They're certainly good enough with almost everyone back from a 14-0 team. That made it 26 wins in the past 27 and three undefeated regular seasons in the past six. That also included two Fiesta Bowl wins.

Even Alabama hasn't done that.

Oh yeah, I went there. But let's save the strength of schedule debate until at least August, shall we? For now, don't say you weren't warned as the next offseason Top 25 makes its debut.

Armed with the knowledge of the past four months, it's obvious that after expansion and Alabama defending, Boise State is going to be the biggest story going into 2010.

1. Alabama (Previous rank, No. 1): Now we'll see how the Crimson Tide play with everyone chasing them. I'm guessing pretty much how they've played the past two years when they played for two SEC titles (winning one) while spending a total of six weeks atop the BCS standings. I can't wait to see offensive coordinator Jim McElwain turn loose quarterback Greg McElroy (with Nick Saban's blessing, of course). It should be McWonderful.

Spring fling: Who cares if the secondary needs rebuilding? Dre Kirkpatrick is a budding star.

2. Boise State (2): No use bitching about how the Broncos don't belong here. It doesn't matter. They're going to start in the top five, which means if they win all their games, they will most likely play for the national championship. It's all about September when Boise plays the Hokies and Beavers. Win those two and the Broncos won't lose again in the soft WAC. Quarterback Kellen Moore is a legitimate preseason player of the year candidate, if not Heisman winner in December.

Leading the nation: ... in returning starters. Twenty-one of 22 return in addition to most of the two-deep. Yes, this team deserves to play for a national championship.

3. Ohio State (3): I knew the Buckeyes were going to be OK the moment I ran into Gene Smith at the Final Four. "How's Terrelle's knee?" I asked him. "It's good," Ohio State's AD said. That's enough for me, and should be good enough for the nation. If the Rose Bowl was Pryor's corner-turning game then the Bucks will be contending for a national championship.

Don't sleep on Miami: In a rematch of the 2002 national championship game, the Hurricanes come to Columbus on Sept. 11. Terry Porter is not expected to be in the house.

4. Florida (5): Who else are you going to pick to win the SEC East? In the first year post-Tebow the Gators are still a powerhouse. The guess is that the offense will be a little less explosive but with the talent Urban Meyer has assembled this team has at least 10 wins (and a BCS bowl) in it.

The quarterback thing: Meyer has had plenty of practice, winning a national championship with a conventional quarterback. Anybody remember Chris Leak? John Brantley has a better arm.

5. TCU (4): Quarterback Andy Dalton should be a Heisman candidate. Of course in May, Pee Wee Herman is a Heisman candidate, but you get my drift. The next great TCU defensive end is Wayne Daniels, one of nine defensive starters back from the No. 5 scoring defense.

Next goal: A July deadline to raise $100 million for stadium renovations that will make TCU look more like a BCS program. If the Big 12 gets raided by the Big Ten, the program might be big time sooner than it thinks.

6. Oregon (7): Chip Kelly can coach quarterbacks. Unfortunately he can't keep them out of trouble or away from injuries. That's why the Ducks go into fall drills looking for a replacement for Jeremiah Masoli. That's also why Kelly will make a star out of that replacement, either Darron Thomas or Nate Costa.

Elsewhere in the backfield ...: When LaMichael James returns from a one-game suspension, Oregon will have arguably the deepest stable of running backs in the country. Kenjon Barner (six yards per carry) and veteran Remene Alston will try to make it hard for blue-chipper Lache Seastrunk to get playing time.

Ten to watch
Oregon State

7. Texas (11): The 'Horns will be tougher physically, if that's possible. No longer with Colt McCoy to lean on, Mack Brown is installing more of a pro set with a fullback. You'll see Texas line up and pound people for a change instead of passing on third-and-2. The 'Horns should win the Big 12. It's up to Garrett Gilbert, McCoy's successor, as to how far they rise nationally.

Ten again: Look for Texas to win at least 10 for the 10th consecutive year. Ten of the 12 games will be played in-state. The toughest stretch is UCLA, Oklahoma (followed by a bye week) and then at Nebraska.

8. Iowa (6): Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is healthy. If he stays that way for the entire season it's going to be interesting. Interesting in that Iowa won't stumble at the end. Interesting in that it won't be doing it with mirrors like last year's team did at times. The defense is a given with nine starters back. I might have been a bit too hasty picking Ohio State No. 3. The Hawkeyes get Penn State, Wisconsin and the Buckeyes at home.

The Hawkeyes are a dark-horse national champion contender if ...: The offensive line comes together and Stanzi stays healthy. Who knew Iowa is 15-2 since Nov. 1, 2008?

9. Nebraska (8): The difference between a Big 12 championship and the Holiday Bowl for the Huskers last season was having one more playmaker on offense. Quarterback is an issue but with Bo Pelini's defense alone, this team could win eight. The offense should contribute more and Nebraska will win nine or 10 because this team may be better overall than the Ndamukong Suh-led unit of last season. Watch for Jared Crick to become the next nuisance at defensive tackle.

Ruling the Big 12 North: The last time Nebraska won outright back-to-back division titles was 1997, Tom Osborne's last season. That also happens to be the Big Red's last national championship.

10. Wisconsin (9): Anybody doubt that the Big Ten is back? That makes three teams in the top 10. Look for a possible conference title run with the return of 17 starters including quarterback Scott Tolzien and tailback John Clay. This is Bret Bielema's best team

Barry Alvarez has it figured out: Big Ten expansion, not the Big Ten race. Wisconsin's AD and former coach has been the unofficial "spokesman" for expansion in the past few months. His football team hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1999.

11. Virginia Tech (14): Deep backfield, veteran quarterback, should be favored to win third ACC title in four years.

12. Oklahoma (19): Lose a Heisman winner in 2009 (Sam Bradford), get an experienced starter back in 2010 (Landry Jones).

13. Georgia Tech (10): Defensive coordinator Al Groh brings the 3-4 to compliment Paul Johnson's baffling offense. Welcome to ACC contention, Al.

14. Miami (12): Jacory Harris needs to get his injured thumb back in shape after missing the spring. Let's hope so. If not, it might not be all about the U in 2010.

15. USC (17): Pete Carroll couldn't win the little ones (Stanford, Oregon State, etc.) Lane Kiffin (seven career college wins) would like to win a big one.

16. Florida State (NR): Better than anyone thinks as Jimbo Fisher takes over. FSU is Alabama in miniature. 'Noles will win the ACC in 2011. The Lost Decade is over.

17. Arkansas (22): Bobby Petrino is selling his $2 million, 8,000-square-foot home in Fayetteville. He's either downsizing or ... no, he wouldn't, would he?

18. LSU (13): If Jordan Jefferson doesn't come through at quarterback there's always Josh Jasper. He kicked a 57-yard field goal in the spring game.

19. Penn State (16): Team Doughnut will be weak up the middle with quarterback questions looming.

20. Pittsburgh (24): Sophomore tailback Dion Lewis could win the Heisman if the Panthers win in 2010.

21. Auburn (NR): No surrender on The Plains, 'Bama. Former Gator Cam Newton takes over at quarterback.

22. Cincinnati (15): The Bearcats will not go from winning 12 to being irrelevant. Butch Jones is too good a coach.

23. West Virginia (18): Think Rich Rod could use Noel Devine at Michigan?

24. North Carolina (NR): Dichotomy U. The defense is scary. So is T.J. Yates at quarterback.

25. Stanford (NR): Another year of the quarterback in the Pac-10. Cardinal's Andrew Luck goes into the season battling Washington's Jake Locker as league's best.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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